During the opening night of BET Experience, a three-day party at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles, smooth seducer Maxwell posed a question of the Staples Center crowd. “Are you feeling delicious tonight?”
Well, yes, thanks for asking. Maybe a little ripe, too. But he likely wasn’t asking the men in the audience.
Maxwell was sniffing out the ladies and, as is his style, he wanted to go further. Through an hour-plus set Friday that showcased hits stretching back to his breathtaking 1996 debut, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite,” he pumped his pelvis, collapsed on his knees, wiggled a finger in tawdry fashion and speculated on bodily juices. He moved through the ballads and midtempo jams that made him one of the most promising artists to arrive on the late 1990s R&B scene.
Appearing on a bill featuring a remarkable Jill Scott performance and early sets by engaging English singer Marsha Ambrosius and Candice Glover, Maxwell closed the roster with oft-simmering jams sent from a tight R&B band featuring a killer two-man horn team. And he wasn’t shy about his desires.
During “Fire We Make,” his collaboration with Alicia Keys, the soul seducer turned his back, faced Keys’ projected image on the video screen, fell to his knees and started grinding. “Hey darling, don’t make no excuse,” he sang. “We can chase the sun and burn the hole inside of you."
On the R. Kelly-penned ballad “Fortunate,” Maxwell visited lyrical waterfalls, surveyed the sunshine and moonbeams while his band delivered quiet-storm accompaniment. When expert trumpeter Keyon Harrold blew a massive solo near the set’s end, Maxwell’s allure came more fully into focus: He’s an artist delivering expansive soul that draws few boundaries.
Few could argue for Maxwell’s lyrical subtly, but he gave the crowd exactly what it came for -- except new music. The notoriously patient creator hasn’t released a new album since 2009’s acclaimed “BLACKsummers’Night,” and though he teased that fact during one song, he didn’t push new product on the crowd or offer much information on it to placate his audience.
More assured were Jill Scott’s fans, who witnessed a searing, truly inspired set on the big Staples Center stage. It’s a platform she proved she deserves. In fact, where Maxwell rested on his laurels, Scott did the opposite, delivering roaring, joyous new music that competed with gems from her catalog such as the bawdy “Gimme,” the woman-with-a-plan love song “The Way” and others.
Scott first hit a few years after Maxwell, and where he seems to have struggled to tap his creative center, she’s never lost it. That was particularly obvious on a new gospel-inspired song that delivered a joyous wallop. As her band ran through a heavy soul groove, Scott sang of love as healing agent, of being shattered and in need.
“You put me right back together again,” she sang, grooving near her set’s conclusion. It ended too soon, but with great ferocity she showcased not only her huge voice but her charisma, confirming a transcendent brand of universal soul power.
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